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Perverse Sovereignty Arrow Vol 1 No 2 Contents
About borderlands Volume 1 Number 2, 2002

 


The Perverse Perseverance of Sovereignty


Anthony Burke
University of Adelaide



1. It's a familiar story: the withering away of the state under globalisation, or if not so much the state, the withering away of a certain idea and formation of sovereignty. A sovereignty that no longer possesses the fullness and power of its Westphalian ideal: a bounded territorial realm in which national authority is absolute, which provides a representative and political principle through which states and their people can manage and control the forces that affect their lives. With the increasing globalisation of capital and trade, the growth of supranational regimes of economic governance such as the WTO, the interventionist zeal of the World Bank and the IMF, and the might and influence of the transnational corporation, sovereignty appears to be a thing of the past - the nostalgic ghost of a world transformed.

2. Such views, with more or less sophistication, are visible across the political continuum. We can recall the Economist's stunning headline of 1986, 'The nation-state is dead', or point to the respected critical scholar of globalisation, Jan Aart Scholte, who maintains that, even while 'the state apparatus survives' and 'is more intrusive in social life than before…the core Westphalian norm of sovereignty is no longer operative'. (Economist 1995/6; Scholte 1999: 21) Even one of the most intriguing and profound discussions of globalisation in recent years, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's book Empire, falls prey to this logic. 'The passage to Empire', they write, 'emerges from the twilight of modern sovereignty'. (2000: xii)

3. Their words appear at the turn of a millennium, the close of a century which has fulfilled, ended and hollowed out modernity beyond all possible dreams, all nightmares, all utopias and dystopias. The fate of sovereignty, it seems, is bound up with all these dark fates. Yet I am uncomfortable with these resolute metaphors of temporal passage. We might recall that the full title of the famous Economist editorial was 'The Nation-State is dead. Long live the nation-state' (1995/6), and we might also focus on a key contention of Hardt and Negri's, that 'the decline in sovereignty of nation states...does not mean that sovereignty as such has declined'. They portray sovereignty not so much in absolute decline as in passage and transformation, from the bounded national territories of modernity to 'Empire…a decentred, deterritorialising apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers' (Hardt and Negri 2000: xi-xii).

4. Hardt and Negri thus make a paradoxical contribution to this debate. They echo the view that sovereignty, as it was imagined within modernity and tied to the bounded territorial authority of the nation-state, is in decline, but then insist on the emergence of a new - supranational and deterritorialising - form of sovereignty which is still repressive and disabling like its nostalgic echo, but which also forms the terrain of a new mode of critical and revolutionary action - the terrain of 'Empire' and the revolution of the 'multitude'. Yet they go further, to argue that what they call 'modern sovereignty' – a closed, egoistic mode of national identity intolerant and repressive of otherness – is in fact passing; that not even this survives the loss of economic authority and the difference-harnessing capitalist machine of Empire. (2000: 137-158)

5. In the face of this, a number of questions arise. Why is there this persistence of the idea of modern territorial sovereignty as passing away in the face of economic globalisation, neo-liberal ascendancy, the transnational corporation and so on? What other complexities and understandings does this obscure and occlude? Why does this idea of temporal passage coexist, in Empire, with Hardt and Negri's very suggestive account of a new global apparatus of rule? Is it possible and indeed crucial to argue that sovereignty still exists in a complex (and in many ways enabling or ideal) relation to the new imperial space under construction? Are there violences and struggles whose names still need to be heard from beneath the ongoing wreckage of modern sovereignty?

6. This essay thus sets out two critical tasks. First, is a critique of the image of sovereignty's passage presented by both Scholte and Hardt and Negri. It argues that, whatever the loss of economic autonomy experienced under globalisation, sovereignty is not passing away: it forms, instead, a complex and malign articulation of law, power, possibility and force that thwarts a totalising image of decline and irrelevance. Secondly, it is also a critique of the essentialist image of sovereignty at work in The Economist and in writers such as Scholte (1999: 19-20), which closes off an understanding of the ways sovereignty is performed, imagined and conjured via a founding and illegitimate violence. By focusing on an obvious loss of national economic authority the "paradoxical" constitution of sovereignty is assumed, closing out a deeper understanding of the discursive process by which sovereignty - and its exclusionary and subjectifying violence - was brought into being. (Connolly 1995: 137-9; Burke 2002: 1-27)

7. For my purposes, it is Emmanuel Levinas who offers the most profound warning against assuming sovereignty's passage. In Ethics as First Philosophy he invites us to consider not the twilight of modern sovereignty but its persistence - the persistence of its malign, suffocating ontology, its intimate linkages with violent images of truth and being, with the instrumentalisation of knowledge, the technologisation of morality, the arrogance of identity and the death of love. 'Modern man persists in his being as a sovereign who is merely concerned to maintain the powers of his sovereignty', he warns. 'All that is possible is permitted…a miracle of modern Western freedom unhindered by any memory or remorse'. (Levinas in Hand 2000: 78)

8. So it is between these two idioms, between passage and persistence, that I wish to situate some thoughts on the 'fate' of sovereignty under globalisation. I do so in part to counter the relentless rhetorical force of Empire which, while brilliant and suggestive, I suspect of a subtle colonisation of critical thought and thus of emancipatory politics. It is for this reason that I counter Levinas - and the ethical, deconstructive tradition he helped to engender - to a work that airily dismisses its ongoing relevance. Hardt and Negri have spoken too soon when they declare the 'deconstructive phase of critical thought' a 'closed parenthesis' that will fade away in favour of a liberatory fable of cyborgs amid the 'plastic' terrain of new productive technologies. (Hardt and Negri 2000: 217-8) This is to not only close out a still fruitful and urgent stream of critical theory, but to obscure the continuing, horrifying patterns of violence and politics such work helps us to critique and overcome.

9. Tied up with these perspectives are important questions of political priority and practice, which may be enabled or hampered by particular modes of analysis. Do we identify a 'deterritorialising' capitalist globalisation as the major political task at this time, and name this enemy and field of struggle "Empire"? Or do we still view the State - with its monopoly on violence and definitions of public danger, and its technologies of subjectification and authority, often in synergy with sections of capital - as a still important locus of energy and struggle? Once we make such decisions, do we then develop the right images of political solidarity, struggle and subjectivity that will allow us to pursue a concern for justice?

10. As I write, more than six months after the September 11 attacks in the United States, the US continues to fight in Afghanistan and rattles the sabre against Iraq, Israel pulls back its forces from the vicious destruction of "Operation defensive shield", having killed as many as 500 Palestinians in two weeks, and the Indonesian military pursues a vicious war of counterinsurgency in the oil rich province of Aceh (where Exxon-Mobil is a major investor). The Venezuelan military has staged a coup, with tacit US backing, only to reinstate the elected left-wing President after the Organisation of American States condemned their actions and local support evaporated. Dominant public obsessions are with security and its violent, exclusivist, ontologising technologies: counter-terror, border protection, deterrence, 'homeland security', the 'necessary' erosion of civil liberties and the rule of law.

11. In such contexts we see perverse connections of tactics and ideology. A free market US administration demonising its enemies in the starkest terms of self and other, freedom and terror; linking such representations with a global military and diplomatic campaign; yet also accelerating the very forces of globalising capital which are interpreted as hastening the dissolution of the territorial state. There is something more complex at work, which can't be reduced to a new Zeitgeist, to a new, seductive and totalising narrative of historical inevitability. Alongside (and in counterpoint to) an analysis of "Empire" we need to understand something less heartening: the perverse perseverance of sovereignty.

12. By citing a range of contemporary examples – the Asian financial crisis and post-Soeharto Indonesia, Israel's war against the Palestinian Intifada, the post-9/11 'war on terror', and the new xenophobia directed against migrants and refugees in the developed West – this essay argues that we need to consider the complex coexistence of imperial sovereignty with modern sovereignty. This generates a political task which must be at once deconstructive and re-productive: turned towards a critique of the exclusionary repression of sovereignty and towards the creation of an ethical cross-border solidarity of the multitude.

The Founding Violence of Sovereignty

13. But first we must talk about sovereignty - the understanding of sovereignty that transcendent accounts of globalisation occlude and which Hardt and Negri develop only to announce its imminent passage.

14. What is "modern sovereignty"? In developing this concept, Hardt and Negri echo a powerful critique of sovereignty that refutes its basic essentialising claim: that sovereignty forms an unproblematic and legitimate site of authority and legal violence based on its status as a representative signifier for the nation, 'the people'. This is a form of ontological magic first visible in Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, where he posits humanity moving on a journey from a mythical 'state of nature' to the 'body-politick', 'a multitude united in One Person'. (1985: 227) Based on this suffocating image of 'many wills' reduced to one, Westphalian sovereignty was made (via Machiavelli) into the basic structural and normative principle for International Relations: the rule of law and morality within the state; the rule of anarchy and amorality outside it, driven by states' eternal competition and struggle for power. (Hobbes 1985; George 1994: 71)

15. It is from this essentialism too that the state under globalisation is understood to be losing authority, without a question as to whether the state had ever deserved authority or been genuinely representative of its 'people'. Yet long ago, in a fragment of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche had declared the sovereign state to be 'the coldest of cold monsters':

Coldly it tells lies too, and this lie crawls out of its mouth: 'I the state, am the people'…it is annihilators who set traps for the many and call them State; they hang a sword and a hundred appetites over them…State I call it where all drink poison, the good and the wicked; State, where all lose themselves, the good and the wicked; State, where the slow suicide of all is called "life". (Nietzsche 1978: 49-50)

16. More recently a range of writers have shown that the essentialist image of sovereignty effaces the violence and illegitimacy of its own founding. William Connolly, in The Ethos of Pluralization, draws on a spectacular aporia in Rousseau's Social Contract to argue that sovereignty does this by presuming itself to authorise and precede the very act of its coming into existence. 'It is a difficulty that deserves attention', wrote Rousseau, that 'In order that a newly formed nation might approve sound maxims of politics…it would be necessary that the effect should become cause; the social spirit, which should be the work of the institution, should preside over the institution itself; and men should be, prior to the laws, what they ought to become by means of them.' (1998: 42)

17. Connolly calls this the 'paradox of political founding' and argues, following Paul Ricoeur, that it is 'a paradox of politics as such'; no political act ever conforms to its self-image as a pure reflection of prior consent and sovereign authority. Every political act, says Connolly, always 'lacks full legitimacy at the moment of its enactment. Sovereignty always occurs after the moment it claims to occupy'. (1995: 138-9) Hardt and Negri similarly point to the work of Jean Bodin, who admitted that 'force and violence create the sovereign'. (2000: 98) In his turn Derrida asks of the US founding fathers: Who authorised their signatures on the US Declaration of Independence, other than a popular sovereignty which did not yet exist? Derrida calls the Declaration an 'act of faith, a hypocrisy indispensable to any political, military or economic coup de force'. The appeal to God as the document's 'final legitimising instance' only magnifies the conceit at the centre of the United States' sovereign foundations; a conceit that not only conjures popular representative power for an elite but, as Connolly suggests, effaces an enabling juridical and strategic violence against North America's indigenous peoples. (Derrida cited in Norris 1987: 196; Connolly 1995: 138) This is true of colonial conquest of first peoples everywhere, as Irene Watson writes in this issue of Australia:

In imposing ‘sovereignty’ over indigenous laws, the state through military force rapes its way into existence. Creating a sovereignty of violence, and not of law. (Watson 2002: 20)

18. In a way that both Nietzsche and Levinas do, Connolly thus warns of the ongoing violence implicit in the perpetuation of such ontological illusions of sovereignty:

The appearance of a pure general will (which must be common and singular) requires the concealment of impurities. Such a strategy succeeds if violence in the founding is treated by the hegemonic political identity to have no continuing effects…the paradox of sovereignty dissolves into the politics of forgetting. (1995: 138)

19. It is only through such a politics of forgetting that George W. Bush can claim, in his post-9/11 address to Congress, that America is historically innocent ('a new world that became a friend and liberator of the old…a slave-holding society that became a servant of freedom…a power that went into the world to protect but not to possess…'), effacing completely the long history of dispossession and warfare, from the seventeenth century until 1890, that cleared the North American continent of its owners and destroyed many proud indigenous civilisations. (Bush 2001; Brown 1991) Furthermore, as Connolly suggests, the (effaced) violence of founding has ongoing effects. The gesture of forgetting is invoked as Bush rallies Americans for a war on terror, and it is with a similar discourse of forgetting that Australian leaders efface live questions of Aboriginal sovereignty, land ownership and reconciliation in the same breath that they proclaim a right to exclude asylum seekers on the basis of the nation's 'sovereign rights'. Yet as the Gungalidda elder Wadjularbinna writes, 'this is not John Howard's country, it has been stolen…The refugees were coming here, to OUR country, which we as Aboriginal people have a spiritual connection to…Our Spirit Creator and our ancient law and culture would not stand for how these refugees are being treated.' (Howard cited in Burke 2001: 323; Wadjularbinna 2002)

Secure Sovereignty: Two Genealogies

20. There is a further way of exposing the paradoxical and violent constitution of sovereignty: through genealogy. Genealogy aims to understand the 'conditions of possibility' of modern sovereignty: the political, cultural and discursive space in which it could emerge, and the space it would in turn enable and continue to transform. It also aims to understand how, out of and against its limits, we can imagine a new form of politics.

21. Hardt and Negri pursue such a genealogy of sovereignty in two stunning chapters of Empire, where they develop their concept of "modern sovereignty"; we can also see the contours of such a genealogy emerging in Foucault's Discipline and Punish and his lectures on security, population and governmentality. (1991a, 1991b, 1983, 1988) This is to pursue a genealogy of modern sovereignty via the promise that has always been linked umbilically to it: security. (Burke 2002, 2001a)

22. In Hobbes' Leviathan and Locke's Second Treatise on Government the figure of the sovereign was imagined via a founding exchange of freedom for security: one that fused the individual and sovereign subjects (state and citizen) into a single existential figure that now seems impossible to break apart. This secure modern subject was further imagined as endangered, as primally estranged from the Other of the Criminal, the Socialist, the Aboriginal or the ethnic minority. This entrenched a powerful image of sovereign identity as perpetually under threat, and as intolerant and repressive of difference; thus in pursuit of its own survival, that sovereign subject is always entitled to deploy violence. As Hobbes wrote, the Soveraignty (sic) has right 'to do whatsoever he think necessary to be done…for the preserving of Peace and Security'. (Burke 2002: 7-11; Hobbes 1985: 233)

23. Furthermore sovereignty was not just a juridical figure. It was a political technology which simultaneously reached into the heart of the citizen and most obscure reaches of the social world, and enabled new forms of governmental power that underpinned and accelerated new forms of technological and economic modernity. This Foucault saw as the 'political double-bind…the simultaneous individualisation and totalisation of modern power structures'. (Burke 2001a: 274; Foucault 1983: 216)

24. In this way, the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham saw security as essential to the progressive imagination of liberal modernity. Security would safeguard an 'expectation' of the future in which economic gain can be pursued without interruption either by social disorder or socialist redistribution; a security which rested not merely on totalising deployments of police or military violence but on desire, discipline and self government – what Foucault termed "governmentality". Hegel, concerned with similar threats, developed a powerful narrative of economic and social progress in which state and civil society would be fused via an antagonism to the Other, which is to be either expelled or effaced within the higher unity of the One. Such images of progressive western subjectivity would in turn justify an imperialism to which 'the civil society is driven' in its search for new markets, the 'passion for gain which involves risk…the element of danger, flux and destruction'. (Burke 2001a: 278-98, 2002: 16-17)

25. Yet Hegel, in a way relevant to Hardt and Negri's own account, also sought to tame the potentially revolutionary powers of modernity (of which Marxism and socialism were an alternative vision) through a vision of order in which progress takes the form, not of an irruption, but a slow and rational design. In Bentham and Hegel's thought (which has since formed a template for powerful forms of utilitarian liberalism) sovereignty, security, economic prosperity and a central, organising racism powerfully coalesce. (Burke 2001a: 289, 2002: 17) This analysis has echoes in Empire, but it may also help to complicate Hardt and Negri's view of a radical temporal shift from "modern" to "imperial" sovereignty. It could be argued that Hegel's thought transcended mercantilism and helps us understand the coexistence of strong images of the nation-state with globalising capital; certainly in Francis Fukuyama's neo-Hegelian account of the post-Cold War "end of history" (1992), which celebrates a conjunction of neo-liberal democratic governance and globalising capitalism, this is true. Yet Fukuyama's account is virtually missing from Empire.

Modern Sovereignty: Two Modernities

26. The great insight of Hardt and Negri's account of modern sovereignty is that modernity is not a singular process but is profoundly split: between 'a radical revolutionary process' and an ordering 'counter-revolution' that 'sought to dominate and expropriate the force of the emerging movements and dynamics'. (2000: 74) In the first, which they call 'the discovery of the plane of immanence', humans seize the powers of creation from the heavens to create a radical new consciousness of freedom, scientific possibility and democratic politics; a consciousness they see visible in Dante, Spinoza, Thomas More and the Protestant Sects. (2000: 73) The second begins with the Renaissance, is taken up by the Catholic Church and a reaction within the Reformation, and finally becomes a dominant theme of the Enlightenment (in the thought of Descartes, Kant and Hegel).

27. The democratic possibility of the "multitude" that was freed when the medieval divine order was swept away, is thwarted by the reassertion of 'ideologies of command and authority', by 'the deployment of a new transcendent power [that plays] on the anxiety and fear of the masses, their desire to reduce the uncertainty of life and increase security'. (2000: 75) By the time Hegel has transformed 'the pallid constitutive function of Kant's transcendental critique into a solid ontological figure' this counter-revolutionary project has crystallised: in this modernity 'the liberation of modern humanity could only be a function of its domination…the immanent goal of the multitude is transformed into the necessary and transcendent power of the state'. (2000: 82)

28. Hardt and Negri also make two crucial linkages that echo other accounts. They understand that Hegel's 'philosophical recuperation of the Other within Absolute Spirit' and his universal history were linked with the 'very real violence of European conquest and colonialism' and thus were 'a negation of non-European desire'. They also, gesturing to Foucault's accounts of governmentality and the political double-bind, understand sovereignty as 'a political machine that rules across the entire society' - a machine that is disciplinary and bio-political. (2000: 87)

29. Yet what I would emphasise is that such power, exercised through economic regulation, disciplinary apparatuses, coercion and desire, is still ultimately organised around the final authority (and emotional appeal) of the state. In the construction of national identities, all too often in fearful and repressive relation to internal and external Others, we ultimately find the link between individualising and totalising power; between the state and the citizen as linked formations of subjectivity secured by security. This closes off democratic possibility and freedom and, as Hardt and Negri write, establishes a 'new equilibrium…between the processes of capital accumulation and the structures of power'. It makes an ordered 'people' out of the revolutionary and open set of relations which is the multitude. There is 'no longer anything that strives, desires, or loves; the content of potentiality is blocked, controlled, hegemonized by finality'. (2000: 96, 103, 82)

From Modernity to Empire?

30. This, then, is "modern sovereignty": not simply an abstract locus of juridical authority that forms the basis for Westphalian international law and order, but a complex disciplinary and ontological machinery of enormous depth and force; one whose ultimate aim is to harness and control the possibility of freedom within capitalist modernity. In this way Hardt and Negri's is a brilliant and suggestive analysis that resists essentialism and builds powerfully on an extended body of prior and contemporary theory. The problems, in my view, begin when they brazenly assert that 'the end of colonialism and the declining powers of the nation are indicative of general passage from the paradigm of modern sovereignty toward the paradigm of imperial sovereignty'. (2000: 137) In the hope of foreseeing a renewed conflict between the revolutionary and repressive possibilities of modernity they assert a radical, irreversible passage from modernity to Empire:

As modernity declines, a new season is opened, and here we find again that dramatic antithesis that was at the origins and basis of modernity…The synthesis between the development of productive forces and relations of domination seems once again precarious and improbable. The desires of the multitude and its antagonism to every form of domination drive it to divest itself once again of the processes of legitimation that support the sovereign power…Is this the coming of a new human power? (2000: 90)

31. We can hardly mock their desire or fail to share their hope – but to do so is not always to share their optimism. I worry that projecting the emergence of the multitude as a new historical phenomenon – in teleological terms - may be to downplay the very real challenges in forming it into being and generating truly revolutionary potential from its disparate (and divided) sites and spaces of struggle.

32. Even more disturbing is the wanton act of theoretical (and analytical) closure they perform amid this hope. This comes with their suspicion that 'postmodernist and postcolonialist theories may end up in a dead end because they fail to recognise adequately the contemporary object of critique, that is, they mistake today's real enemy':

What if the modern forms of power these critics (and we ourselves) have taken such pains to describe and contest no longer hold sway in our society?…In short, what if a new paradigm and power, a postmodern sovereignty, has come to replace the modern paradigm of rule through differential hierarchies of the hybrid and fragmentary subjectivities that these theorists celebrate? In this case, modern forms of sovereignty would no longer be at issue, and the postmodernist and postcolonialist strategies that appear to be liberatory would not challenge but in fact coincide with or even unwittingly reinforce the new strategies of rule! (2000: 137-8)

33. These are fighting words, with a terrible critical and analytical finality. There appears to be no question: modern sovereignty, in all its repression and horror, is passing away; and the critical paradigms that grappled with it so gamely are now at best passé and at worst complicit with the new hybrid flexible formations of capitalist Empire. This occurs because the world market 'tends to deconstruct the boundaries of the nation-state' and with them the stable orders and hierarchies of modern sovereignty. (2000: 150) 'Postmodernists,' they say, 'are still waging battle against the shadows of their old enemies: the Enlightenment, or really modern forms of sovereignty and its binary reduction of difference and multiplicity to a single alternative between Same and Other':

The affirmation of hybridities and the free play of differences across boundaries, however, is liberatory only in a context where power poses hierarchy exclusively through essential identities, binary divisions, and stable oppositions. The structures and logics of power in the contemporary world are entirely immune to the "liberatory" weapons of the postmodernist politics of difference. In fact, Empire too is bent on doing away with those modern forms of sovereignty and on setting differences to play across boundaries. (Hardt and Negri 2000: 142)

34. There is much that is profound about their account of imperial globalisation as generating and capitalising on difference; and their warning that simple anti-racism or celebrations of hybridity fail to work as critical tools against the exploitation of disciplinary, biopolitical capital does need to be heeded. But their assertion that Empire is bent on doing away with modern sovereignty, as such, is overdetermined and misleading.

35. True, neo-liberal globalisation 'tends to deconstruct the boundaries of the nation-state', but not its ontology. Consider the genesis of Empire after the Second World War. Rigid, fear-soaked ontologies of Cold War anticommunism, combined with massive military expenditures, levels of strategic confrontation and internal repression, were central to the vast movement of US, European and Asian accumulation from 1950 to 1989. A rigid and coercive division between 'democracy' and 'communism', between Self and Other, was then fed into a Hegelian discourse of development and progress where the Other ideally dissolved into the Same. (Burke 2001: 97-127) Such ontologies continued in Southeast Asia beyond that, through to the Cambodian settlement and the fall of Soeharto, when they were partially dismantled through the (very limited) liberalisation of Indonesian politics and the normalisation of relations with Vietnam (which did admittedly occur in tandem with new "imperial" movements of foreign capital into the socialist markets of Vietnam and China).

36. For a period, which we can date from the early 1990s until 11 September 2001, a global binary confrontation fractured into more local and regional confrontations: the Persian Gulf War, the Balkans, Chechnya, the first Intifada, civil war in Cambodia and Burma, repression of the Kurds and Tibetans, East Timor and Aceh, the 1998 riots in Indonesia. Yet surely these conflicts were proof that modern sovereignty and its vicious, security-obsessed ontology was not passing. Nor was modern sovereignty unrelated to the continuing reliance of capital on strong states for "stability", the control of labour, and the security of mines and oil fields. Now, the great binary confrontation has returned - between "freedom" and "terror", "civilisation" and "evil" - which draws in wider and wider sections of the global polity and reinforces modern sovereignty in the worst way.

37. Hardt and Negri's analysis here rests, I suspect, on having swallowed the "democratic peace" theory whole, refracted via Fukuyama's "end of history": 'sovereign power', they assert, 'will no longer confront its Other and no longer face its outside, but rather will progressively expand its boundaries to envelop the entire globe as its domain'. (2000: 189) Where Fukuyama divided the world between the developed 'post-historical' world (where democratic peace would reign) and the 'historical' world (where war and conflict continue), Hardt and Negri describe a world of 'minor and internal conflicts'. The 'history of imperialist, inter-imperialist and anti-imperialist wars is over' they say; there are only civil wars, police actions, a 'proliferation of minor and indefinite crises…an omni-crisis'. (Fukuyama 1992: 245-65, 276; Hardt and Negri 2000: 189)

38. This tends to diminish the destructive power of the 'minor and indefinite crises' they cite, both in terms of scale, loss of life and political importance, and with them the theoretical trajectories that are most able to challenge them. While they do briefly acknowledge the import of 'postmodern' theorising in the discipline of International Relations, they still (mistakenly) regard it as trapped in a death-struggle with modern sovereignty, despite their earlier admission that such scholarship 'strive[s] to challenge the sovereignty of states by deconstructing the boundaries of the ruling powers, highlighting irregular and uncontrolled international movements and flows, and thus fracturing stable unities and oppositions'. (2000: 141-2) National Deconstruction, David Campbell's (1998) study of the interpenetration of sovereignty and conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, for example, starkly illustrates the dangers of assuming sovereignty's passage or irrelevance. There he shows how purist discourses of sovereignty and territorial identity both drove ethnic cleansing and crippled international responses. In turn, his attempts to critically rethink sovereignty and democracy via Derridean deconstruction and Levinasian ethics provide invaluable tools for preventing such a disaster from ever reoccurring. Two-hundred thousand dead, UN humiliation, instability in Yugoslavia and the Kosovo war were the legacies of the very violent, and thoroughly contemporary, perseverance of sovereignty in a crisis that was far from 'minor'.

39. This theoretical double-movement - that asserts the disappearance of modern sovereignty from reality and the obsolescence of anti-modernist thought - has two effects that must be interrogated. Firstly, it imagines a new kind of political subject, the "multitude", which can hopefully mimic and subvert the same deterritorialising movement of capital without succumbing to it; and second, it enforces the new description of rule, "Empire", as the most pressing political task.

40. Yet we can reasonably ask whether this subject is so ripe for fruition, or whether the continued operation of modern technologies of sovereignty and identity might not be in danger of crippling its emergence; likewise we can ask whether in order to liberate the multitude we need to continue to critique and fight modern sovereignty, to fight its hold on subjectivity, its violence, and its complex enabling relationship with global capital. Only then can we begin to grapple with the irony William Connolly identifies: 'the more global capital becomes, the more aggressive the state is with respect to citizen allegiances and actions'. (1995: 135) In short, the teleological metaphor is the wrong one. We need instead to think in terms of a strategic coexistence of imperial and modern ontology whose objectives are somatic and spatial: the control and production of bodies, land and space as a necessary (but not always umbilical) adjunct to the flow and exploitation of capital.

Tactical Sovereignty: Post-Soeharto Indonesia

41. Contemporary Indonesia certainly provides one of the most stark examples of the work of Empire, but it is also an example of the perseverance of sovereignty. Pressed to open its capital markets during the 1990s, and long influenced by the liberal development advice of the World Bank (which chaired the aid consortium the Consultative Group on Indonesia), tens of billions of short-term capital flooded in during the 1990s, much of which was channelled into property and sharemarket speculation and the corrupt business practices of the Soeharto family and other cronies. Such capital account liberalisation, with its complex interrelationship with currency speculation, corruption and political crisis, was a major factor in the terrible crash of 1997-8. (Robison et. al. 2000; Bello et. al. 2000)

42. In the wake of this "Asian" crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has grossly infringed the sovereignty of the Indonesian state with detailed programs which amount to indirect control of its entire economic policy. We could be forgiven, in the face of this, for thinking sovereignty was passing. Yet the IMF simultaneously demands and utilises that same sovereignty as it forces the Indonesian state to bail out insolvent private banks - assuming their bad loans, often worthless piles of assets and crippling responsibilities of debt service. Such debts - incurred through IMF 'bailout' packages and the issue of bonds to insolvent banks - now reach US$154 billion, and require 51 per cent of the national budget in servicing amid forced reductions in subsidies and spending on health and education. (Winters 2000; Robison and Rosser 2000; Higgott 2000; Burke 2001b) The bailout also helped Indonesia's corrupt elite by socialising their burden of debt, and quarantining assets in the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Authority (IBRA) which has since been the subject of an unseemly struggle to prevent assets being sold in the hope that they can be shifted – minus the debt they originally secured – back to their former owners. (Caragata 2001) Needless to say, this has caused enormous hardship and misery, and further disenfranchised an already marginalised population.

43. We may wonder whether sovereignty in such contexts is less a secure ontological container, or a stable site of political agency and authority, than a 'strategic handhold' for power - abrogated here, incited there, deployed, evaded and reinvented within a struggle over who can seize and shape its myriad administrative, economic, cultural, spatial and political potentials. Here is a symptom of the loss of economic autonomy and authority that was assumed to attach to sovereignty, but also of its continuity as an enabling juridical structure for both domestic and transnational capital; sovereignty as a site of tactical contest not only between classes and social groups, but between corporations and sectors of capital.

44. The imperial 'sovereignty' exercised by the IMF on behalf of western banks and investors depends on the modern sovereignty of states, which continues to perform a significant channelling, policing and legalising function both of capital and labour. This has been recognised by scholars of International Political Economy, who emphasise the enabling role of the state in the creation of that most profound symptom of "Empire", the liberalisation of global finance. Susan Strange argues that 'markets exist under the authority and permission of the state', while Jeffrey Frieden tellingly reminds us that 'political consent made the global financial integration of the past thirty years possible'. (see Beeson and Robison 2000: 17; Helleiner 1994: 2; George 2000)

45. Indonesia is also an example of a central paradox of the contemporary crisis of sovereignty: the way in which the (often wilful) loss of economic autonomy is matched by an insistence on repressive, territorial images of national integrity, security and identity. As Connolly argues, 'while political movements, economic transactions, environmental dangers, security risks, cultural communications, tourist travel, and disease transmission increasingly acquire global dimensions, the state retains a tight grip over public definitions of danger, security, collective identification and democratic accountability'. (1995: 135)

46. Even through its 'democratic' transition, Indonesia still plays out a politics of security directed against a variety of threatening Others who in the past have taken myriad forms: the Chinese victims of the 1998 riots, the 'ungrateful' Catholics of East Timor, the Christians of Maluku, the West Papuans or the Acehnese. While there have been, admittedly, laudable efforts to promote greater autonomy for some regions, the harsh "security approach" of the Indonesian military (TNI) still perseveres. The TNI's sponsorship of militia violence in East Timor led to massive destruction and international intervention; nearly a thousand civilians have died in Aceh since 1999, and the military has even been implicated in the religious violence in Maluku. (Burke 2001b; ICG 2000: 18)

47. This ironic situation was starkly demonstrated by two events in late 2001: within two weeks the Indonesian parliament passed a new autonomy law for West Papua and the indigenous leader Theys Eluay was killed by the Indonesian special forces command, Kopassus. In August 2002, repeating the political double-take of the year before, the Indonesian military issued an ultimatum for the Acehnese resistance movement to accept an autonomy package and abandon independence or risk "firmer" military action. Their deadline? December 7, anniversary of the invasion of East Timor. (Greenlees 2002; Sukma 2002)

48. Indonesia, the state that haemorrhages its sovereignty to the global market simultaneously asserts its 'national integrity' with increasing harshness. As it does so it performs, more and more abjectly, its failure to imagine a different form of politics, a different form of coexistence, a different model of identity than that which must always 'appropriate and grasp the otherness of the unknown'. As Levinas asks: 'My being-in-the-world or my 'place in the sun'…have these not also been the usurpation of spaces belonging to the other man who I have already oppressed or starved…are they not acts of repulsing, excluding, exiling, stripping, killing?' (Levinas in Hand 1999: 76, 82) This, for me, raises an issue of political priority. What is more dangerous, the fluid grasp of capital or the violent ontology of modernity? Could they not form common and intertwined dangers?

Neoliberal Sovereignty: Security and the Refugee

49. The coercive reassertion of sovereignty amid its imperial corrosion is not confined to third world national security states recently emerging from dictatorship; it is visible, in not unconnected ways, in developed states as well. At the opening gasp of the twenty-first century this has most clearly emerged in the travail of the asylum seeker. Attitudes and policies towards asylum seekers have been hardening for over a decade, in Britain, continental Europe and the United States. Anxieties over the integrity of physical borders (when borders to capital have been all but removed) are increasing, and policy is moving to match such anxieties in the face of a long-standing body of international law and new regional institutions like the European Convention on Human Rights. (Mann 2001)

50. This has been most pronounced in Australia, where a neo-liberal government has been championing economic globalisation while instituting ever more repressive policies of mandatory detention, restrictions to legal process, and military operations to repel boats. Australia's policy became world news in August 2001 with the crisis over the Norwegian ship the Tampa, which CNN compared with the Voyage of the Damned; however controversy over beatings, protests, self-mutilation, suicide and psychological trauma in many detention centres had been developing for some time. (Mares, 2001; Docker, 2002; Perera 2002; Burke 2001c) At the general election in November 2001 the Howard government also drew on historical and racial anxieties about fears of invasion and Anglo-Celtic cultural integrity to retain office. Its policies drew on and developed those previously deployed by the United States against Cuban and Haitian refugees. Flows of asylum seekers became militarised and securitised, 'transformed into a threat not only to the state but to the security and identity of the host society' (Burke 2001a; Ceyhan and Tsoukala 2002; Bigo 2002).

51. The demonisation of the Other, the Stranger, and their incarceration and punishment for simply being non-citizens, is part of the general apparatus of governmentality and biopower intrinsic to modern sovereignty; but one deployed now as a way of managing resentful publics and controlling global flows. If, as McKenzie Wark argues, 'migration is globalisation from below', its repressive securitisation aims to preserve the privileges of globalisation from above. (Dillon 1999; Wark in Burke 2001a: xviii)

52. The repressive reassertion of sovereignty against the refugee is utterly bound up with the dissolution of sovereignty in neo-liberal economic restructuring, and its insistence on permanent mass unemployment; a perfect way for neo-liberal governments to evade responsibility for the palpable hardship and insecurity experienced by the losers of globalisation. This is a wilful displacement of the 'permanent and irreducible' postmodern uncertainty analysed by Zygmunt Bauman, for which neo-liberalism bears so much responsibility: the troubled context for John Howard's promises to provide Australians with a sense of security and 'home', a repressive and futile panacea for the globalisation-induced upheaval he deems so necessary. (Bauman 1997: 21-5; Allon 1997; Burke 2001a: 181-197)

53. This, to me, contradicts Hardt and Negri's insistence that 'the transcendence of modern sovereignty…conflicts with the immanence of capital', and questions their traditionally Marxian insistence on capitalist power as the major focus for resistance and political action. (Their insistence on the primacy of the 'terrain of production' and the development of 'posthuman' forms of labour power is a kind of postmodern echo of the statement in the Communist Manifesto that 'the history of all society up to now is the history of class struggles'). (Hardt and Negri 2000: 327, 217; Marx and Engels 1996: 1) Rather I would insist on the historical interrelationship of modernity, bio-power, sovereignty and capital, as Foucault suggested more than once; on their interrelationship as problems, and on modernity's important status as a unique focus for critical politics. Modernity not as a "time" but as a political formation which brings not just the repression and alienation of labour but detention centres, prisons, death camps, ethnic cleansing, counterinsurgency, nuclear weapons and killing at a distance. (Foucault 1978: 141, 1991: 218-221; on modernity see Bauman 1991, 1989)

54. I write here from a 'disciplinary' situatedness. For the critical international theorist, sovereignty as a political problem occurs not merely through its abrogation or its passage towards Empire, but through the persistence of its central normative status in international relations. This is not merely nostalgia - in strategy and statecraft sovereignty remains associated with inherently violent images of security and identity that draw constant sustenance from the poisonous soil of modern ontology. Such facts, for example, underlie Jim George's appeal 'for serious critical reflection upon the fundamental philosophical premises of western modernity' (1994: 9). Just as Neoliberal states collude in the construction of Empire, they continue to insist on the ontological primacy of the state and its monopoly on the legitimate use of force, a 'monopoly' which variously imprisons and expels refugees, incarcerates African-Americans, dispossesses indigenous people and runs 'counterinsurgency' operations against that most sinister threat to the nation - the movement for secession. A malign contemporary force to Hobbes' founding conditions for the survival of the State: 'Concord, Health; Sedition, Sickness; and Civill war, Death'. (Hobbes 1985: 81; see also Campbell 1998, Campbell and Shapiro 1999)

55. In such a context, Security ironically rests on the necessity of the insecurity and suffering of the Other. Warfare, killing and conflict are often driven less by the imperatives of Capital (present though they often are) than by the logic of an ontology which refuses to coexist with otherness and seeks an absolute solution to the threat of its existence. This is as true of the Howard Government's "deterrence" of asylum seekers through detention and military expulsion, as it is of the more openly violent strategy of the Israeli state when faced with Palestinian opposition and terrorism.

56. Such images of security weld together ontological necessity, positivist epistemology, 'realist' morality and an instrumental image of technology in the hope of realising the modern dream of the absolute 'correlation between knowledge and being'. (Levinas in Hand 1991: 76-78) This time has not passed, it is not in twilight; it enables and coexists with Empire, thwarts its temporal pull, and generates its own political urgency that is both a part of and additional to the necessary work against capital's global sovereignty.

War of Sovereignty: Israel and Palestine

57. A final example - modern Israel - which is testament to the non-passage of sovereignty. In particular, the drawn out death-struggle between Israel and Palestine has been marked by the perseverance of sovereignty's ontology in the fusion of violence, religious and territorial identity, and the national security state. Since the election of the hard-line Ariel Sharon (shadowed by the even harder-line Likud pretender Benjamin Netanyahu) the conflict's worst features have been reignited, with suicide bombings, assassinations, and ferocious Israeli Defence Force (IDF) operations aimed at disabling the Palestinian authority itself. These culminated in April 2002 with "Operation Defensive Shield", the invasion of Palestinian sovereign areas by the IDF which saw the shelling of towns and refugee camps, mass arrests, torture, summary executions of Palestinian 'militants', shootings and the destruction of houses. In Nablus, Jenin and Ramallah this caused hundreds of deaths, with little impact on the ability of suicide bombers to shatter innocent Israeli lives. (Goldenberg 2002a, 2002b, 2002c; Beaumont 2002a, 2002b; Sayigh 2001)

58. The needs of imperial capital have little purchase in this conflict, bar a remote and confused link with US geo-strategy. This is a struggle over identity, sovereignty and territory: one carried out not only between Arab and Jew but between Jews themselves, between conflicting images of Zionism and Israeli identity. Twisting through the events of this conflict are ongoing questions: How do Jews and Arabs fit into Israeli citizenship and identity? What is a "Jew"? What are the borders of Israel, and can Israel's existence accommodate the existence of a Palestinian state or indeed Palestinians themselves? (Ben-Porat 2000; Nasser-Eddine 1996)

59. In short, at the heart of this conflict lies a profound anxiety about the existential security, integrity and unity of Israel, and we may fear that in the wake of the violence right-wing constructions of Israeli identity are becoming more powerful. As a major conference on Israeli security in 2000, attended by a wide range of powerbrokers on the centre and right, set out: 'Israel must confront directly developments that manifest existential dangers. Failure in this confrontation or an attempt to avert it are liable to lead to the demise of the Zionist enterprise'. The Herzliya Conference manifested acute anxiety about Arab birth-rates and advocated the containment of such 'geo-demographic' threats through increased Jewish emigration to Israel and a settlement of the Palestinian conflict that will 'preserve' a 'Jewish majority' i.e. little or no 'right of return' for dispossessed Palestinians, the annexation of Jewish settlements beyond the 'green line', and 'the encouragement of Jewish settlement in demographically problematic regions' such as the Galilee, the Jezreel Valley and the Negev 'to prevent a contiguous Arab majority that would bisect Israel'. (Herzliya 2001)

60. The most viable political resolution to the conflict – the "two state solution" – still resides in modern sovereignty, but we face a fundamental question of how rigid and ontologically intransigent such a solution might be. How can it accommodate difference, provide some measure of justice, and promote coexistence? (Pundak 2001; Said 2000) The ideal is that Palestinian territory might be released from the ontological grasp of the dream of a Greater Israel, but the Herzliya conference also suggested deep division within Israel as to whether a Palestinian state should be permitted or, if it was to be established, sought ways to permanently annex some Palestinian territory to secure Israel against the 'demographic threat'. (Herzliya 2001) The Palestinians are most unlikely accept such a settlement, while in May 2002 the Likud voted never to accept a Palestinian state of any kind, and thus the violence is set to continue. Peace could be a pyrrhic accommodation: while the irredentist desire for Greater Israel may one day be defeated at the negotiating table, we can worry that the exclusivist ontological image of the Zionist state will persevere, (in)secure behind its 'iron wall', while the Palestinian nation is born into a cauldron of hatred and injustice. (Erlanger 2002; Shlaim 2000)

Crossing Sovereignty: An Ethics for the Multitude

61. All of these examples – 9/11, the Indonesian crisis, the securitisation of refugees and the Israeli-Palestinian war – raise not only a diagnosis of the interrelationship of sovereignty and capital, but questions about how sovereignty's political and subjectifying power can be dissolved and moderated to counter both its own violence and its enabling relationship with imperial exploitation. This is where Hardt and Negri's notion of the "multitude" could be usefully thought together with postmodern ethics.

62. In many ways their vision of the multitude – a vast cooperative movement of humanity that is 'separated from every residue of sovereign power, every "long arm" of Empire', an 'uncontainable force and an excess of value with respect to every form of right and law' – is the political intimation of a desire rather than a reality, albeit one whose possibilities are visible in many sites and struggles. Yet they may have spoken too soon when they hope that this non-territorial, transnational human colossus already possesses the means to create a truly global structure of resistance to Empire (2000: 398-99).

63. They do admit that Empire utilises repressive mechanisms in an attempt to control flows of labour and migration, and forms of allegiance and sympathy. However they play down the malign force of these operations with a weak hope: 'attempts at repressing the multitude are really paradoxical, inverted manifestations of its strength'. (2000: 399) My fear is that the very possibility of the multitude is thwarted by the politics of sovereignty, identity and segregation which, in so many sites and conflicts, breaks and scatters it into a chaotic and hate-filled dispersion. This politics divides the exploited from each other, fosters instability which the state can order and control, and helps to police both worker and middle-class subjectivities to sustain the dynamic structure of consent through which neo-liberal patterns of governance (at both the national and international levels) are maintained and secured.

64. If a 'new cartography' of the multitude, based on 'global citizenship', is to effectively come into being, it has to challenge the ontological force of existing politics of identity, incarceration, sovereignty and violence wherever they emerge. This is where postmodern ethics, derived from the deconstructive tradition of Heidegger, Derrida and Levinas, must be one element of the solution. The plight of refugees, the violence in Palestine, ethnic cleansing, terror and counterterror, the desire to punish and divide – none of these situations can be resolved without a deep transformation of the ways we think about, narrate and deploy identity. All these conflicts need to rethought in terms of the call to ethics and the love of the Other.

65. Such thinkers call for a relation of reconciliation and coexistence based not on negotiations between contained, hostile identities, charged by resentment, but on what Julia Kristeva (1997) calls an acceptance of the 'strangeness within ourselves', and Levinas 'the question of my right to be which is already my responsibility for the death of the Other, interrupting the carefree spontaneity of my naïve perseverance'. (Hand 1999: 86, 294) Consider the extraordinary case of Palestinian Mazen Joulani, who in June 2001 was shot dead by a Jew in Jerusalem and whose organs were subsequently donated by his family to the Israeli transplant system. His heart now beats inside the body of a Jewish man. (Sydney Morning Herald, 2001) After such generosity, who is a Jew and who is an Arab? Levinas himself could not have scripted a more hopeful demonstration of his ethics. Ironic that this great Jewish philosopher could never properly accept Zionism's ethical obligation towards the Palestinians, never accept them as his 'other'; his thoughts have never been more necessary. (Campbell 1998: 179-80)

66. None of the cases I have discussed here exhaust this imperative. Lebanon, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Rwanda, Cambodia, Tibet, the Kurds, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan – these are just a few more of the horrors modern sovereignty, through its obsession with militarism, violence, certainty and unity, has brought us. This is why ethics and deconstruction are still so important: they have given us the most profound idioms to understand, resist and transform the perverse perseverance of sovereignty.


Anthony Burke is the publisher of the borderlands ejournal, and currently works as a lecturer in politics at the University of Adelaide. He has published fiction in Meanjin (4/1995) and essays on security, ethics, Indonesia, Australia and warfare in Alternatives, Communal/Plural, Pacifica Review and Postmodern Culture. His book In Fear of Security was published by Pluto Press Australia in November 2001.


Author's note

Earlier versions of this essay were published in the online sovereignty cluster of the conference Globalisation Live and Online, and presented to the nation/states conference, both at the University of Adelaide, Australia, in July and November 2001. My thanks to their organiser Katherine Driscoll, to Fiona Allon, Fiona Nicoll and Brett Neilson for soliciting this piece, and to its referees for helpful suggestions and advice. The section on Israel and Palestine benefited greatly from many discussions with Minerva Nasser-Eddine.

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